Otefet Ohr: A welcoming light to Jerusalem

This new initiative utilizes a mobile app to register and track volunteers and create an eco-system of rewards and benefits.

 MEMBERS OF Otefet Ohr’s Youth Patrol in Har Homa provide teen social leadership. (photo credit: Chani Rubin)
MEMBERS OF Otefet Ohr’s Youth Patrol in Har Homa provide teen social leadership.
(photo credit: Chani Rubin)

“Jerusalem of Gold,” the popular song that was written on the eve of the Six Day War of 1967, contains the refrain “Jerusalem of gold and of bronze and of light… ” A new social initiative entitled Otefet Ohr – Enveloping Light – spearheaded by 41-year-old Jerusalem resident Eliav Dikshtein is attempting to bring this statement to fruition by turning Jerusalem into a city where volunteers help those in need, which further strengthens the city’s neighborhoods and communities.

Dikshtein has a vision for providing hours of “light” – with volunteers helping people in need in neighborhoods throughout the city. “Our vision is to create thousands of hours of light in Jerusalem to make it a city enveloped in light. It will help the municipality and the neighborhoods because everyone will help each other, without the need for outside assistance.”

For Dikshtein, a self-described social and real estate entrepreneur, the initiative began with a random encounter. “A little more than two years ago, during Hanukkah,” he recalls, “someone put me in touch with an elderly woman in Katamon who lives alone.”

Dikshtein began visiting her weekly, accompanying her to the hospital when she was not well, making minor repairs in her apartment, or just sitting and listening to her. “I called the hour that I visited her each week,” he says, ‘an hour of light.’” The “light” that is provided by volunteering, he says, reaches both the person being helped and the volunteer.

“When a person gives of himself by volunteering,” says Dikshtein, “he is not only providing help and assistance to another but also receives something in exchange. He creates a relationship, and he gets a feeling of satisfaction when he does something for someone else. In addition, he is also receiving this ‘light’ by becoming a greater part of a community and the neighborhood.”

 ELIAV DIKSHSTEIN, founder and head of Otefet Ohr. (credit: LIOR YADU) ELIAV DIKSHSTEIN, founder and head of Otefet Ohr. (credit: LIOR YADU)

Six months later, Dikshtein, who has previously been involved in numerous social and volunteer initiatives, learned of a man living alone in Jerusalem who needed food. Upon arrival at the man’s apartment, Dikshtein realized that the man was living in squalor, “like a homeless person.” He enlisted the help of some of his friends and arranged new furniture for the man in a few days.

Dikshtein analyzed the social situation in Jerusalem and found other cases of people whose personal circumstances had caused them to fall between the cracks of the city’s support system. He discovered that while there are many cases of people in difficult financial straits, others need assistance – such as teens at risk of turning to crime, older people who are lonely and single mothers who need support.

“These people want a more communal feeling,” says Dikshtein. He notes that most of the people who need help are not affiliated with a synagogue and do not receive the required information from their local community to help them take advantage of city services. In short, a multiplicity of social needs is not being met.

“I saw this as an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade,” he says. In his view, the crisis presented an opportunity to address individual needs through community networks and, in doing so, strengthen communication between local councils and residents.

INITIALLY, DIKSHTEIN recruited 30 volunteers to spend an hour visiting 30 people in need, once a week, for an hour per visit. He enlisted another person to add the names of the volunteers and their clients into an Excel table to track the visits.

Dikshtein then decided to perform a more in-depth study of Jerusalem’s population. In September 1967 after the reunification of the city following the Six Day War, the population of Jerusalem was approximately 268,000 people.

Today, 55 years later, the city’s population is close to one million. Jerusalem is divided into 31 regional councils spread throughout the city.

Dikshtein decided to examine five councils – Ginot Ha’ir, which is near Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, Har Homa in southeast Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev in the northern part of the city, Kiryat Hayovel in southwest Jerusalem and Gonenim in the south-central part of the city. Dikshtein explains that he selected these five areas since they provided a good cross-section and representative sampling from different parts of the city.

After several months of research, Dikshtein concluded that Jerusalem, due to its size, geography and different populations, is composed of many small cities with different needs. Pisgat Ze’ev, he notes, has 45,000 people. Jerusalem also has the largest haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population of any city in Israel.

“There are many societal needs that are not being taken care of,” says Dikshtein. “Despite the fact that the municipality is working hard, it can’t get to everyone.”

Dikshtein developed a model by which volunteers can donate their time and resources to help others, which in turn provides economic value and incentives to volunteers and neighborhood businesses. The idea is built around an app scheduled to be released within the next two months. “This model has an economic and economic value,” he explains, “It develops a vision as to how a neighborhood in Jerusalem should be conducted as an example for other cities.”

Volunteers in areas where Otefet Ohr operates will be able to register through the app. Those who visit people in need on a weekly basis will be entitled to purchase a wide variety of products from the app, including health products, food staples, and cleaning supplies, at a 20% discount through the Otefet Ohr community. Dikshtein explains that Otefet Ohr receives a discount on the products it sells to volunteers. Half of the profits from sales of these products will go to the organization to meet its operating expenses, and half will be earmarked for a neighborhood fund for families in need.

The app maps the social needs of the specific neighborhood and, in addition to providing volunteers with a special discount, will also provide volunteers with free services from neighborhood businesses after they have accumulated 50 hours of volunteering. Neighborhood businesses will also be featured in the app, which provides exposure to their business activities.

In this way, says Dikshtein, neighborhood volunteers save money by receiving discounts on goods and will gain a sense of belonging within their own neighborhood. Local businesses receive exposure and publicity and will correspondingly generate more sales. He adds that the communication fostered through Otefet Ohr and the accompanying app will help the community council remain in contact with residents who need assistance.

Finally, once a month, the organization will provide a face-to-face meetup for families in the Otefet Ohr community featuring neighborhood artists and performers. “This strengthens the community,” explains Dikshtein. Other community-strengthening activities in Har Homa include a youth patrol that will assist in social activities and a neighborhood café.

Dikshtein also plans on twinning communities outside Israel with Otefet Ohr to provide reciprocal ties with a twin Jewish community from abroad, including hosting representatives once a year for a global “Jerusalem Week.”

To date, Otefet Ohr is active in Har Homa and will be beginning operations in Kiryat Menachem in southwest Jerusalem in April. “In Har Homa, we have 50 ‘hours of light’ that are working each week,” says Dikshtein. This means that 50 volunteers are working with 50 neighborhood residents in need of assistance on a weekly basis. Otefet Ohr’s neighborhood administrator in Har Homa provides a report each week of the number of visits made to people in need.

Dikshtein says that the influence of Otefet Ohr will spread beyond the specific neighborhoods where it operates to the entire city. In his view, it will increase residents’ pride in Jerusalem, will keep people from leaving the city and will improve communication between residents and communal councils.

More than 50 years ago, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said that Jerusalem must serve as a social role model for all Israeli cities, for the Jewish people around the globe and for all of humanity. “Ultimately,” says Dikshtein, “Jerusalem must be an example of how people live together, both from a communal and societal perspective, and how we help each another.

“I am looking ahead to a vision of Jerusalem in 2048 when Israel will be 100 years old. Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan or New York or London. It must be an example and a role model for Jewish people for Israel’s cities and for humanity in general. It has a task beyond being a regular city.”

Dikshtein says that Otefet Ohr is a singular initiative that wants to do good and influence Jerusalem in a positive way over the long term. “This initiative has been proven to work in the field – it is not just talk.” He adds that he has been working with the Jerusalem Municipality on the initiative, which has been endorsed by Mayor Moshe Lion, who provided an initial amount of financial support.

“I hope that the partnership with the city will continue,” he relates. The organization is currently seeking volunteers living in Har Homa and Kiryat Menahem, as well as from living in other areas of Jerusalem who wish to contribute financial assistance and help in other ways. More information about signing up for these efforts is available at otefetor.co.il/.

“We are only here for a short while,” says Eliav Dikshtein. “I want to leave a significant legacy for Jerusalem. That is my vision – to make Jerusalem a city that is enveloped with light.” ■